In the sense that team needs dictate cornerback as a top priority, the San Francisco 49ers must draft Jason Verrett—because he’s the perfect pick at No. 30 overall.
The 49ers, in all their Super Bowl-contending glory, remain just a chip or two away from realizing their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Sorry, Bill Polian, such an NFL team can and does exist.
And if such a singular deficiency resides in their defensive secondary (as opposed to wide receiver), the 49ers need not orchestrate a complex draft-day trade in order to acquire that piece.
Staying put on Day One will in all probable likelihood yield them Verrett, cornerback from Texas Christian University.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that such a prognostication is even possible.
This collection of mid-March forecasts indeed reveals a favorable range for San Francisco materializing as Verrett’s future home in the NFL (Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com and SI.com’s Don Banks actually have him slotted at No. 30 to the 49ers).
We reckon that should take care of all the logistical qualifiers for the time being.
So with that in mind, let’s move on to what merits this former Texas Christian standout as a worthwhile early-round selection for the championship-worthy 49ers.
Speed, Coverage, Instincts
Verrett is fast—very fast.
He can cover—and cover very well.
And he has football instincts—and lots of them.
The three-year cornerback from TCU is indeed the complete package from a skills standpoint.
Verrett posted the second-fastest 40-yard dash during the NFL Scouting Combine. His 4.38 seconds ranked just below the 4.37 tallied by top corner prospect Justin Gilbert.
He was also top-three in the vertical jump (39.0’’), broad jump (10’ 8’’), three-cone drill (6.69 seconds) and 20-yard shuffle (4.0 seconds).
So, while his diminutive 5’9’’, 189-pound stature is surely conducive to that blazing speed, it also doesn’t prevent him from possessing elite leaping abilities.
The same goes for his work in coverage.
Veteran scout Dane Brugler of CBS Sports provides this positive evaluation:
Fluid body type with smooth hips to easily turn and adjust his frame. Excellent short-area burst and flexibility to seamlessly redirect his footwork to mirror receivers in space. Very good feel on an island…baits and drives on throws with burst and timing…Smart and sound with his cover assignments, always playing alert.
In a similar vein, here is how the analysts at ESPN Insider praise Verrett for his mental acuity at the cornerback position:
Above-average FBIs [football instincts]. Strong understanding for leverage and consistently maintains quality positioning. Very good eyes and anticipation skills in coverage. Aggressive and has improved confidence throughout career.
Verrett is clearly fast enough, skilled enough and football-intelligent enough for a successful transition to the professional ranks.
Is there anything else?
High Intangibles, Modern NFL Playmaker
Playing in the NFL requires otherworldly physical and mental capacities that the mere mortals of Planet Earth just don’t possess.
It also demands attributes that extend well beyond the material realm.
These are commonly known in gridiron lexicon as football intangibles.
Verrett, ladies and gentlemen, has these in spades.
And the folks at ESPN Insider offer this compelling little anecdote:
No off-the-field issues. Initially was homesick during his first year at TCU and nearly quit the team after a poor performance against Baylor in 2011. He has grown up, matured and become mentally stronger since. Good overall work ethic.
In addition to battling through a significant shoulder injury during his senior year—and those aforementioned qualities—Verrett is a bona fide playmaker at cornerback.
That skill makes him especially useful against the league-wide aerial tendencies of the modern-day NFL.
Verrett ranked fifth in the nation with six interceptions and led the NCAA with 22 pass breakups in 2012.
He followed up that impressive campaign by pacing his conference with 14 pass breakups and receiving Co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013.
He earned that award by “shut[ting] down several of the conference’s top receivers and caus[ing] offenses to stop looking to his side of the field,” according to CBS Sports.
Those same scouts perhaps said it best by describing Verrett as “like a magnet to the ball with excellent timing to plant, drive and arrive when the ball does with aggressive ball-hawking skills.”
Now, the league itself would seem to appreciate this game-changing defensive back.
Would the executives making the personnel decisions in San Francisco feel the same?
Tough, Versatile Nickel Corner in the Red and Gold
Niners’ general manager Trent Baalke seeks out toughness and versatility (among other strengths) when scouting collegiate prospects.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh instills those same traits in his players on the field.
And secondary coach Ed Donatell wants cornerbacks who operate with that skill set.
Verrett, for his part, fits that mold.
As previously documented, Verrett played through injuries and performed far beyond his size. He is simply one of those gamers who trump the eye test and can do it all.
Per Gabriel of the National Football Post:
He has played both the left and right sides of [TCU’s] schemes…Despite his size limitations, he is a very tough kid who loves to play and he is a playmaker…[Y]ou see Jason line up in press, off and zone coverage.
If drafted by the 49ers, Verrett would replace Carlos Rogers as the inside corner on nickel (and dime) formations.
To that end, Gabriel believes he will “do a great job lined up on many of the quick small slot receivers we see in the NFL.”
Verrett would also please San Francisco’s coaching staff in run defense.
ESPN scouts note that he “attacks blockers…takes quality angles and breaks down well in space.” They also point out that he “tackles with leverage and effective[ly] hog-[ties] ball-carriers at the legs.”
Along with “routinely [making] plays on special teams coverage,” per CBS Sports, Verrett would fill any and all duties the 49ers require of him.
If Baalke stays put at No. 30 overall, Niners fans should hope to hear, “Jason Verrett, Cornerback, TCU” from commissioner Roger Goodell during the evening hours of May 8, 2014.
More Pro-Ready than Roby, Faster Than Fuller, Concluding Thoughts
Let’s conclude this discussion by offering a few compelling reasons why Verrett is better suited for the 49ers than other similarly graded cornerbacks in this year’s draft.
ESPN rates Ohio State’s Bradley Roby at No. 20, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller at No. 27 and Verrett at No. 31.
CBS Sports has that same trio with a slight inverse. Verrett comes in at No. 30, Fuller at No. 33 and Roby at No. 35.
The National Football Post ranks these corners in consecutive slots from No. 3 to No. 5 in its positional hierarchy.
And in his latest mock draft, Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller has Fuller, Verrett and Roby taken sequentially from No. 24 through No. 26.
So, what differentiates Verrett? What gives him the competitive advantage over those other two?
The evaluators at ESPN attached a below-average grade to Roby in the intangibles category. A bar altercation in July of 2013 led to both an arrest and charge for misdemeanor battery.
Verrett, to the contrary, earned an above-average mark in this area (as previously noted).
Rob Rang of CBS Sports highlights that Roby “can be late looking for the ball” and has a “tendency to concede underneath throws.”
Verrett is a tight cover-corner more often than not. He also “keeps in good position and does a good job looking back to find the ball,” per the National Football Post.
Fuller, meanwhile, “over-pursues in coverage…to compensate for lack of elite speed” and “doesn’t have [the] gear to recover if he loses a step at the line,” per CBS Sports.
ESPN further underscores that he isn’t “fast enough to turn and run with vertical threats.”
Verrett, on the other hand, “has no wasted steps and can close,” according to NFP.
Of course, Roby and Fuller are upper-echelon talents who are both starting-caliber corners in the NFL, whether this year or some time in the immediate future.
That said, their cited weaknesses are more glaring than Verrett’s, thus placing them below the former TCU star in overall utility for the 49ers. He can indeed step in immediately behind Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, with Eric Wright serving as potential insurance and the No. 4 cornerback.
And for all its worth, Verrett grew up in Fairfield, a city located just 31 miles from San Francisco (and 78 miles from Santa Clara).
He’s a Bay Area man born and raised—let him come home, Trent Baalke.
Sports Reference provided all player statistics.
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